After spending five days in Sydney, we were ready to head to Adelaide, a city many people don’t visit unless they’re heading to the surrounding wine regions. Within a short drive from Adelaide are several large and famous wine producing regions in Australia, such as the Barossa Valley, which is well known for Australian Shiraz, and several others; we visited Barossa first, the Eden Valley briefly, and spent several days in McLaren Vale.
We flew into Adelaide and picked up our rental car (after business hours); it turned out to be broken, so after a couple of hours of dealing with shuttles, returns and getting a new car from a different company, and an express and affordable dinner at “Fasta Pasta,” we were on our way to the small town of Gawler. It lies in the Barossa, where we stayed at the old courthouse, that has been converted by the owner into an Airbnb. Coming out of our Sydney Airbnb, this one was just what we needed. It was quirky and adorable, the bed was so comfortable, it was very clean, and it was fully stocked! It also had a Bluetooth speaker, and phone chargers, which was extra appreciated, seeing as ours were left in a backpack in the first rental car, and we didn’t manage to get them back for a few days.
The Barossa Valley
First things first – Penfolds! ❤️
Penfolds has two locations in the Barossa; one location is their Cellar Door in the valley, where they make the majority of their wine, and offer some interesting experiences, like the “Make Your Own Blend” tasting that we did. The other location is a heritage site in Adelaide, and is the original location of Penfolds, featuring the cottage where Dr. and Mrs. Penfolds lived when they started it in 1847. Some wine is still produced at that site, and is labelled Magill Estate.
Seeing as how I’m gaga over Penfolds, we visited both sites, and for me, they were some of the most jaw dropping, stars in my eyes, “I can’t believe I’m standing here seeing this” wineries I’ve ever been to.
The “Make Your Own Blend” experience was recommended to me by friends who had done it, and was an exceptional experience. We were dressed in lab coats, told the history of Penfolds, and given wine making tools, and three bottles to work with, of single varietals commonly blended in Australia. We got to try different percentages of our own, and come up with the ratio we preferred. Then we made a bigger batch each and bottled them; we got to take them with us!
We did a tasting downstairs afterwards, and as we happened to connect well with their Cellar Door ladies, we were there a bit longer, and were able to try a lot of “off menu” wines.
Our experience at the Magill Estate the following day was also amazing! We had a private tour of the grounds and got to see everything from Max Schubert’s personal collection of signed Grange’s, and his handwritten notes on production, to the area where he built his secret wall to hide them in the early 1950’s.
We did another tasting after the tour, and connected well with our guide again, who literally snuck us a taste of the not-included on the tour, iconic, Grange. I was speechless, and very aware of the value in my glass (pictured below).
If you’re in the Barossa, even if you don’t love Penfolds as much as I do, go to Penfolds! It is such a famous, iconic wine producer that has shaped a large part of the wine making history in Australia and is well known across the world.
This producer is another well known one, that has some pretty amazing history behind it. They have the record for the oldest Shiraz vines in the world, as the Barossa Valley is one of the only areas that hasn’t been affected by phylloxera, a disease in the vine that kills it. Even Europe has had to tear out many of their old vines due to this disease. We saw these beautiful vines, and were fortunate enough to try the wine they produce. When a vine is very old, it produces much less fruit, but the fruit it does produce is rich, concentrated and flavourful. The wines reflect this in their deep, intense flavours, and their complexities in varieties and layers of different flavours that come out as you smell it in the glass, in your mouth as you sip, and long after you have swallowed.
Peter Lehman, Yalumba, Wolf Blass, Jacob’s Creek
We visited several other well known producers, and were glad to get to see some of the wineries that are so well known around the world. Peter Lehman and Wolf Blass impressed us with their higher tier wines that we don’t get in Canada due to our government’s taxation and shipping laws. Yalumba (Eden Valley) has several quality wines as well, and the lady in their tasting room was a blast to spend an hour with! Tate, the company that makes Ballbuster, was also there, but only opens by appointment with people who plan to purchase, so we drove past, but didn’t visit. Jacob’s Creek was another history maker in its day, but we were disappointed with our experience there, and the taste of their wines.
Landscape and Food
The Barossa Valley in itself is quite hilly, and sunny, with lots of interesting plants and animals to look for! We ate at a restaurant called Harvest Kitchen, as it came highly recommended in my research. It had unique menu choices with made-in-house food and friendly service, plus a beautiful view.
We started off our visit in McLaren Vale with the best of the best, and it was really difficult to enjoy some of the other wineries after being at Mollydooker! If you’re a Mollydooker fan, save them for close to last. It was explained to us that Mollydooker is mostly known in America and China, as 85% of their product is shipped overseas. Lots of the locals haven’t heard of them. They have a unique watering formula that allows them to get large, high quantities of grapes that are concentrated in flavours, leading to high “fruit weight”‘on the tongue, meaning you can clearly taste the fruit flavours in the wines, along with secondary flavours. They also have higher alcohol wines that are very smooth and creamy in texture.
We did a tour and light lunch with Liza, who was lovely, and got to learn all about the wine making process, meet the winemaker, and enjoy a beautiful charcuterie board on their stunning patio while we tasted through their flight.
Mollydooker makes amazing quality wines that are full of flavour, boast a velvety mouthfeel, and have long finishes. If you haven’t tried their wines, I recommend you do so. Even their entry level wines are fabulous!
Coriole, Samuel’s Gorge
We fit in two more tastings after Mollydooker that I was fairly unimpressed with. Coriole had a beautiful setting, but a small Cellar Door, and basic wines. Samuel’s Gorge made great, Italian varieties, but I found our experience there to be very unprofessional. Don’t go on a Friday at the end of the day if you want your cellar door people not to be “trollied,” as they say. Greg loved it there, and was able to see past the behaviour of some of the staff; had we sat on their patio and done a seated tasting with the sober worker, I’m sure it would have been way more enjoyable for me as well.
D’Arenberg – The Cube
This place is something else! I’ll let the photos speak to their set up in there.
There was haunted house type music playing on outdoor speakers as we walked up, and the whole ground level is an artistic museum. The tasting room is on the top, and the bathrooms are on the first level.
This wasn’t my style of winery, but was worth seeing once. I’d recommend that everyone who visits McLaren Vale go take a tour, keeping in mind that all of that craziness in there distracts from their wine. They have over 70 wines and they’re aiming for 100. I’ll let you decide how many you think a place can do before the quality drops.
This was easily one of the most beautiful wineries and tasting rooms I’ve ever been to. They also had exceptional wine. The building is very simple and small, but it’s set up for sit down tastings that capitalize on the naturally beautiful setting that is all around them.
Wirra Wirra, Alpha Box & Dice, Chapel Hill
These were all nice enough experiences, with decent, but not spectacular wines, except at Alpha Box & Dice. It was a super cute, quirky place, that made a lot of Italian varieties, and did them well.
We quite enjoyed our experience and our wine. We even sat on their lawn and had a glass in the shade before ending our day, as they’re open later than all the other wineries.
The craft beer scene is beginning to pick up in several of the wine regions in Australia. Breweries are slowly popping up that produce locally made styles of craft beer in a wide range.
Greg enjoyed his flight at Goodieson’s very much, and as the D.D., I practiced driving on the other side of the road!
Landscape and Food
Pizzateca was the highly reviewed restaurant we chose to visit for lunch in this wine region. It is run by Italians, who make everything in house and fresh. Greg said our pizza was one of the best he’s ever had. We also enjoyed their lamb skewers, tiramisu and limoncello!
McLaren Vale was quite hilly, and unlike the Barossa, it sits right along the sea. You can see the sea from many different viewpoints as you’re driving around and at wineries. Our Airbnb was also within sight of it, and we walked or jogged down to and along the shore several times. We also visited the beach to relax in the sun a couple of times, and to watch the sun drop into the ocean at the end of the day.
We also managed to see some Kangaroos along the side of the road!
Wine Tasting in Australia
One thing we noticed, that is unique to Australia (and some wineries we’ve been to in New Zealand), is that they actually let you taste everything on the menu. In other countries, you’re asked to choose which ones you’d like to do, and given a number of how many you can try, but in Australia, they seem to like to take you through everything they have.
Many people in Australia do not use the spittoon. It was common to see people with drivers, or on group tours in vans. We, of course, both use the spittoon at all the wineries, all day (with the exception of definitely swallowing Grange!) even if we’re not the one driving. We actually want to learn, and we like to be able to pay full attention to each wine we’re tasting, even by the end of the day. Because spitting isn’t super common, some of the spittoons were a big bucket, across the room or walkway from the bar, which made it awkward for us to have to walk over with each mouthful, and sometimes bend to the floor to spit. That was a negative for me at the places that didn’t have mini spittoons at the bars.
One of the ladies at Penfolds noticed we were spitting, and commented on it. We explained how we learned a saying they have in France that “you don’t taste wine with your stomach.” She just laughed and exclaimed, “well we don’t say that in the Barossa!”
Overall, our trip to the wine regions in Australia was fabulous for wine lovers like us, and we had some really great visits, met some great Cellar Door people, and learned a lot! Hopefully I’ll get to be a Cellar Door person myself some day, and offer that experience I’ve enjoyed so many times to others.
If you’re touring wine regions in Australia, good luck, enjoy the beautiful scenery, watch for bugs and creatures, and have fun!